Yinka Shonibare Frees the Wind at Stephen Friedman Gallery – Toni Kan

...as new gallery opens at 5-6 Cork street, Mayfair

In Africa, only a glutton feasts alone.

That truism has been highlighted in stories and myths across the continent from the fable of the Tortoise claiming his name is “All of you” so he could enjoy, alone, the feast meant for all animals in heaven to the Bantu myth of  Sebgugugu, the glutton who tasked the patience of the all mighty Imana, with his selfishness.

It has also been highlighted by the venerable Chinua Achebe who wrote that when a man invites his kinsfolk to a feast, it is not because they do not have their own food but as a means of fostering community.

That communal ethos is at the core of the invitation extended by Yinka Shonibare CBE to a number of artists to join him on Friday 6 October, 2023 at his solo exhibition commemorating Stephen Friedman’s opening of his gallery’s new digs at 5 -6 Cork Street in Mayfair, London.

Guests at the opening

Stephen Friedman gallery opened its doors just down the road from the present location in 1995 and signed on Yinka Shonibare in 1996 making him one of their longest represented as well as most accomplished artists.

So it is fitting that the gallery is throwing its doors open with an exhibition of works curated by Shonibare.

The exhibition proceeding under the theme – Free the Wind, The Spirit and The Sun features 21 works of art that run across the spectrum; from sculptures to mixed media, paintings and others realised in pastel and charcoal and graphite.

The artists invited to join the award-winning Shonibare include Bunmi Agusto, Okiki Akinfe, Victor Ehikhamenor, Masimba Hwati, Gareth Nyandoro, Nengi Omuku, Ozioma Onuzulike, Emma Prempeh and Uzor Ugoala.

Yinka Shonibare has described the works presented at this exhibition as “a celebration of nature” and they evince his wide-ranging concerns and practice from sculpted pieces realised from various materials – fiberglass, wood and brass to patchwork pieces made from Dutch wax and appliques to hand-painted bronze.

The works are at once colourful, contemplative and playful; possessed of childlike joie de vivre. There is a clear nod to his African heritage as well as concerns with topical environment issues.

There is also an unabashed rebelliousness, a throwing off of the shackles and a direct challenge to bourgeois expressions and traditions of Western art, something the press release announcing the exhibition describes as “taking inspiration from the dada spirit; formed in Zurich during the First World War…throughout the war, dada artists often staged performances in bewildered, trance-like states, evoking African and Oceanic cultures to express animalism, originality and freedom.”

These currents find expression in works like the “African Bird Magic” series as well as “Hybrid Mask” (Tsekedi), (Ndeemba) and (Nwantaytay).

The exuberance is captured in “Hybrid Sculpture (Faun of stilts)” and especially so in “Sun Dance Kids (Boy and Girl)” which evokes childhood and its carefreeness.

Sun Dance Kids (Boy and Girl)

The “Wind Sculpture in Bronze (SG) 1” awes with its burst of colours, scale, contortions and the intimations of freedom in its barely contained whirl like the chameleonic Agemo in full motion. (Agemo is a Yoruba deity who relays messages between the other deities.)

“Wind Sculpture in Bronze (SG) 1”

The works exhibited by his guests’ are evocative, poignant and imbued with significations.

Two of those works demand a second and third contemplation. Emma Prempeh’s “a haunting fragility” realised in oil, acrylic, slag metal and imitation gold on canvas is for want of a better word, haunting. The emotion aroused as you gaze upon the female subject shrouded in a penumbra is one of loss and longing and the feeling intensifies the longer you contemplate it.

a haunting fragility

Victor Ehikhamenor’s “The Arranged Marriage of King Oedipus”, is conceived on a large scale from charcoal and graphite on unprimed canvas. There is a sense of something ongoing yet fleeting and permanent in the composition. While the foreground is taken over by the bride and groom, other images dominate the background demanding that you draw close to make sense of it all.

The Arranged Marriage of King Oedipus

New comers to his work could see this as a departure from his recent large pieces made from rosary beads, bronze and lace but it is in actual fact a return to form to simple yet stylish charcoal and graphic works he produced about a decade ago.

Okiki Akinfe’s “The Road to Damascus”, continues with the theme of animalism as well as the conflation of the animist with the religious while Uzor Ugoala’s “Untitled” fashioned out of wood, plaster of paris and oil compels you to stop and gaze on account of its elegant simplicity.

In “Chequered Jumper for Anatsui” Ozioma Onuzulike has fashioned a royal robe fit for a master artist from glazed earthenware and stoneware, recycled glasses and copper in the style of El Anatsui.

Yinka Shonibare and friends have served a feast worthy of the best connoisseur.

***Free the Wind, The Spirit and The Sun runs till Saturday 11 November, 2023.


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